A Q&A With MSU Soccer Coach Neil Macdonald

Mississippi State head soccer coach Neil Macdonald provides an update on his team's performance this season, the youth of the team, the state of soccer in Mississippi, and the play of junior forward Treena Ferguson.

Q: Of the 25 players on the roster, 19 of those are freshmen or sophomores. Coach, talk about the youth of your program and their play the first part of the season.
Macdonald: Obviously, we are very young. We just have to be patient with this young group. But they are very talented and have already shown great leadership qualities. This young group is very passionate about the game of soccer and passionate about their school. We also have a lot of Mississippi girls for the first time. And this is not a group that is sitting the bench either. They are out there playing big roles for our team. By the time they are juniors and seniors at Mississippi State University, they will be highly competitive, not only in the Southeastern Conference but in the nation.

This group of freshmen and sophomores has already shown they can compete with the best. I know our record doesn't really show the ability we have. But we played so well against Tennessee and beat them when they were ranked eighth in the country. Seeing those young girls beat a team like that has to get you excited about the future of this program.

Q: Speaking of the record, State is 2-9 overall and 1-3 in the SEC. But of those nine losses, six have come by one goal, including two in overtime. How has your young squad handled those close setbacks?
Macdonald: Well, the staying power these girls have shown during those narrow losses has been incredible. They continue to believe in the system and themselves. Our team focus is totally on what we can control. We can't worry about the opposition, the officials, the weather or the bad breaks. We have prepared ourselves to focus on what we can change and that's helped us with our team chemistry. We focus on what we can achieve the rest of the season and what we can accomplish in the future.

Q: With so many close calls, how vital was the win over Tennessee to your squad?
Macdonald: It was very important for the girls to see that hard work and staying with it can pay off in a major way. That win over Tennessee came at a very key moment for our program. But now you go back, don't get carried away with it, and keep your feet firmly on the ground and build on it. You have to keep practicing even harder to earn those type of results on the field. Again, it was just one game and you have to quickly get over it, a win or a loss, and move on and get ready for the next challenge. I really believe over the past two or three weeks, this team has turned a major corner.

Q: How has your young team handled facing some of the top-ranked teams in the country within the Southeastern Conference and what were your thoughts about the schedule, which now features five straight road SEC games?
Macdonald: Well, it's all about the building process. When we looked at our roster, we wanted a top-class schedule. We have played seven straight home games and opened our SEC schedule with four straight at home. Now we have to go on the road for awhile in the conference and it presents a different sort of challenge for our players. We knew it would be tough with that schedule. But as long as we learn as we go, play our best and continue to get better, then that's what we want. It takes tough losses from time to time to get better and reach deeper to start winning those close games. This is the Southeastern Conference, some of the best competition in the country. If you are going to compete with them, you have to compete and beat the best there is around.

Q: You talked about having a lot of Mississippi natives on the team earlier. There are nine players from Mississippi on the roster, including starters in sophomore Brandi Parker (Vicksburg), sophomore Bethany Frazier (Madison), sophomore Mariclaire Fancher (Greenwood) and freshman Katie Lynn Harden (Madison). Is high school soccer in Mississippi getting stronger?
Macdonald: I believe that high school soccer in the state of Mississippi is improving all the time. This last year of recruiting was probably the strongest class this state has ever produced. The level of high school soccer and club soccer has improved so much. But these players have identified themselves on and off the field. They are good leaders and very enthusiastic about representing Mississippi and we are very excited about this groups' future and the future of high school soccer and club soccer in Mississippi. There are definitely more options now recruiting girls from this state.

Q: Junior forward Treena Ferguson of Ontario, Cananda, currently leads your team with seven of the team's total of 13 goals this season. Ferguson, who has already earned a pair of National Player of the Week honors this year, ranks second in the Southeastern Conference. Talk about her play this season and how her development helps such a young team.
Macdonald: Treena Ferguson has enjoyed an outstanding season so far. She is a perfect example of how a young player with limited minutes can turn into a great soccer player in this talented league. She has really come on strong this year, provided us scoring and also a lot of important leadership. She is our front runner and her offensive impact to this team this year has been huge. And again, she shows how the transition can be from an inexperienced player to one of the top players in the SEC. There is not a better example for our younger players to learn from and to witness firsthand how they can transform into great players.

Paul Jones is a writer for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. Paul, also a sports writer for the Columbus Commercial Dispatch, can be reached by email at pjones@cdispatch.com.

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